I was sitting across the table from pastor Alexei and his leadership team from a remote part of Russia, sipping tea and talking about their journey as a church, and searching the scripture about fresh ways to lead the church — by training new leaders and creating a team-based leadership and decentralizing into a network of house churches in order to expand God’s kingdom in the region. Their hearts were bold and their attitudes were refreshing. But there was also a poignant and unspoken cry in their voices. They were willing to sacrifice for the sake of the Gospel, they were willing to step out and do hard things; they had been taught many things — but they simply needed someone to guide and encourage them. They needed to be fathered!
The things I heard in that small, hospitable Russian kitchen were an all too familiar cry. There is an unreported worldwide crisis – not a political or economical or health crisis, but a spiritual crisis – it is a famine of fatherhood. We know that the advancement of the gospel and the health of local churches worldwide depends on the health of pastors and leaders. We also know that many pastors feel alone and unsupported. In places where systems of “support” do exist, they are often hierarchical, top-down structures, and the local pastors are not always cared for well through them. The more I interact with pastors, the more I see that they are crying out for relationship – for fathering. They can get teaching and countless other resources on the internet. But one cannot find a father online.
The Apostle Paul understood and taught the importance of teachers in the body of Christ. He also knew that teachers were not enough – fathers are needed (1 Cor 4:15). In the last few years I have had several key apostolic men from various countries confide in me that God is moving in their own hearts, shifting the focus of their ministry. They have told me that God is calling them, not to merely administrate the leaders whom they oversee, but to father them… yet they had not been fathered themselves. They are not sure how to do it. These words have haunted me.
There is a principle throughout scripture that fathers are to guide their children. Fathers are to lead their families (Eph 5,6). The fathers who lead their families well are to lead the church (1 Tim 3:4-5). One generation is to proclaim the works and ways of God to the next (Ps. 145:4). When this happens, the Gospel is advanced and it effects on society brings stability. But in the broad picture of world politics and within the church, hardly anyone knows what fatherhood looks like …
* From governments where statism has replaced the father as provider and protector, to orphanages which have sprung from AIDS epidemics;
* from the uprisings against perverted father-figure leaders in the Middle East to the teens, abandoned by deadbeat dads, rioting in Baltimore and other American cities;
* from consumer-oriented western families where dad is absent due to the need to keep up a certain standard of living, to un-Biblical hierarchical forms of church government where relationship-based leadership is not modeled. Today, we have a fatherless generation with no identity, no purpose and no understanding of how to move on. We have forsaken the ways of our Heavenly Father, and the earth is reaping the whirlwind.
Father (noun) is one of the primary self-revelations of God’s nature/character in scripture. He is Sovereign Lord, but He is also a Father, implying not only power and authority, but relationship and care. Fathering (verb) is an attitude of the heart. “Father” is a function, not a title. Fathering means building relationships and imparting influence, identity, validation, protection, training and correction, which means saying the hard things when necessary. A father doesn’t merely sire children – he raises them in the way they should go. A spiritual father helps sons and daughters be grounded in the Gospel of grace.
You see, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is an agent of change. It has inherent power to change lives and an inherent apostolic nature. It is never stagnant, always dynamic. The Gospel constantly bears fruit and increases (Col. 1:6). Often in areas where the Gospel is introduced, it spreads rapidly, with groups of believers springing up like mushrooms after a rain. New groups of believers require new leaders and these leaders are often joined together in supportive networks.
This has an important application with the ministry of The Bridge International, an organization that has long focused on introducing the gospel to an area, training up indigenous leaders, handing ministry over to them and being a bridge of support to these works. In many such regions, The Bridge has helped train leaders and networks of churches have resulted (e.g. Love of Christ Church in Asbest, Russia and Agape Church in Almaty, Kazakhstan). Thank God, in many cases we have seen true spiritual fathers raised up to lead these groups. The Bridge does a wonderful job of finding needs and linking resources to those needs.
Jesus cares deeply for His church and we need prayer for wisdom as to how He wants to use us to care for these leaders. On a recent trip to Poland and Russia, I met with leadership teams in several different cities sometimes thousands of miles apart. Amazingly, they all asked identical questions: How do we identify our leaders? How do we train our leaders? How do we create team-based leadership, rather than the hierarchical models they have experienced in the past? How do we create networks of House Churches?
I am aware of several countries where this seems to be a trend. As a result of this trip, I have begun five coaching relationships via Skype with these leaders and their teams. Perhaps this is one way the Lord has provided to stay related to them and support them.
These men are heroes. They are hardworking, Kingdom-minded servants who love their people. They know how to reach their culture better than we do. They do wonderful work, but they need support.
It has left me wondering if it is possible to set up a network of caring people who can help “father” the fathers. Is it possible to create a model of shepherding shepherds that will work within the various cultural contexts of different regions of the world? Can we do this in such a way as to support, and not undermine the God-ordained authority in a region or local church structure? I am presently finding more questions than answers, but I feel that this is a pressing burden on the heart of our Great Father.
One seasoned apostolic brother wrote to me recently, “I find the greatest need pastors have is for regular encouragement and to know that someone is watching out for their soul.” Let’s pray together for “fathering solutions” that fit these varied cultural contexts and help to advance God’s Kingdom in the earth.
Derek Prince pointed out that a spiritual father is one who births children through the seed of the Gospel which he has personally sown in their hearts, or sometimes adopts those who are already believers, such as Paul did with Timothy.
FROM R.K.’S CORNER
Whenever the media reports a senseless shootout or riot by young men, I post a simple question on my Facebook page, “Where is Daddy?” – a question I believe echoes from the hearts of millions of young people, not only in the Western hemisphere, but all around the world. As the father’s role within the traditional nuclear family keeps being attacked and disintegrated, we increasingly live in a fatherless society, with the tragic consequences we all too often see played out on the news channels.
This also reaches into the church, as many pastors who themselves have never experienced the protection, love, and mentoring, from their own fathers, find it difficult to point to faith and trust in our Heavenly Father!
In light of next month’s Father’ Day, have asked Mark Medley, one of The Bridge’s longstanding partners, to write an article on the urgent need of fathers both in the home and the church. He is well qualified, having with his wife, Melissa, successfully raised four children, now young adults, and he has also for the more than the two decades we have known him, carried a deep apostolic burden for the mentoring of fathers within the Body of Christ, not only locally, but in the nations. For more background info, see: